Byron Pitts: ABC “Talks the Talk” on Diversity via Maynard Institute

Byron Pitts of CBS has been named the chief national correspondent at ABC, the only person of color with that title out of all the networks. Pitts has moved onto ABC citing one reason being their interest in diversity. 

By Richard Prince [Journal-isms] via Maynard Institute

ABC News officially named CBS correspondent Byron Pitts as an anchor and its chief national correspondent Monday, moving Pitts to a network where “diversity is as important as it is to me” and leaving one, he told Journal-isms, that has lost half the number of black correspondents it had when he arrived 16 years ago.

“I don’t think any news organization is where it should be, but the people at ABC are at least talking the talk and making efforts to walk the walk,” Pitts said by telephone.

As chief national correspondent, Pitts said, he will be covering the nation’s major stories. It is a title held by no other person of color at the other networks. Two weeks ago, Jeff Zucker, new president of CNN, said he was excited that Jake Tapper, who is white, will be “the face” of CNN. At that network, John King is chief national correspondent. (Jim Avila, also at ABC, is senior national correspondent and told Journal-isms he is the the first full time Hispanic White House correspondent at a major network.)

Pitts, 52, will also be anchoring hourlong prime-time news specials, another breakthrough for him. He is to fill in as a news reader on “Good Morning America” and on the weekend news. However, Pitts will not be a backup on “World News With Diane Sawyer,” he said, explaining that “the line to that chair is pretty long.”

In his announcement, ABC News President Ben Sherwood said of Pitts, “An accomplished reporter and brilliant storyteller, Byron has a unique talent for stories about people and communities facing the longest odds.

“In his new role, he will file for all platforms, bringing his signature thoughtfulness, seriousness of purpose, and flair.”

Pitts told Journal-isms that Sherwood “came after me aggressively,” along with Barbara Fedida, senior vice president for talent and business.

“He said, ‘We know what you do, and we want you to do that here.’ He talked about diversity.” The subject “was something that he initiated. He said that was a priority for them. He said they want to own the future.”

Pitts mentioned that one of ABC News’ first pieces during the election of Pope Francis last month was by a Hispanic reporter who talked about the significance of the choice to Latin America. Cecilia Vega was in Rome for ABC then.

Pitts was also a contributor to “60 Minutes” and chief national correspondent for the “CBS Evening News.” His departure from “60 Minutes” leaves it with an all-white correspondents lineup.

He named nine African American reporters at CBS when he arrived: Ed BradleyHarold DowBill WhitakerRandall PinkstonRuss MitchellVicki MabreyTroy RobertsJacqueline Adams andMark McEwen. Today, he said he could name five: Michelle MillerTerrell Brown, Pinkston, Roberts and Gayle King.

“Numbers don’t lie,” he said. “One of the challenges with diversity with the networks is, (1) Hire us. (2) Put us in positions to be successful.” He said ABC is doing both.

At CBS, Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp., which includes CBS News and other CBS operations, has “spoken passionately about diversity,” Pitts said. Sean McManus served concurrently as president of CBS News and CBS Sports for more than five years before being named chairman of CBS Sports in 2011. He had “an open door” on diversity matters, Pitts said.

The meetings that McManus held “stopped after he left,”  Pitts said. David Rhodes became president of CBS News in February 2011.

[According to CBS News spokesperson Sonya McNair, CBS has ‘more than double’ Pitts’ estimate of seven correspondents of color,” Gail Shister reported Tuesday for TVNewser. ” ‘We wish Byron well,’ she adds. ABC News has a total of 29, says division rep David Ford.” Pitts apparently amended his estimate to seven.]

Sherwood succeeded David Westin as ABC News president in 2010. Under Westin, ABC lagged behind CNN on cable and NBC in broadcast on diversity concerns.

He had some opportunities to really move some African Americans into key positions as correspondents,”Kathy Times, then president of the National Association of Black Journalists, told Journal-isms when Westin announced his retirement. She said she would have liked to have seen more support from ABC for NABJ during the year and at its convention, and looked forward to that from his successor.

[Source: Maynard Institute]

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